Could anything have been more poignant on this Good Friday celebration – of the sacrifice made by god in giving up his only son to Crucifixion – than that pre-recorded story of the WWI letter from a soldier, his bullet-punctured prayer book returned to his devastated mother ( played wonderfully by Samantha Bond)? The following montage, by the crowd at the event, of a cross made up of coats covered by paper representing such letters, perhaps the most moving thing I have seen on television in a long time.
Not that I believe in the fable of Jesus Christ, or even god, but that was unimportant in the context of what was truly being celebrated here. That unspoken willingness to sacrifice all for a loved one, no matter the cost to oneself. The short piece about the young girl adopting such an adult role in looking after her siblings, because the alcoholic mother was out of it again yet another devastatingly good illustration of what such sacrifice can mean.
Not that I believe such instinctual behaviour to be solely the preserve of humans. One has seen, in wildlife documentary programmes, how older herd members place themselves in danger to protect the young, and this is a perfectly natural instinct in ensuring the continuance of any species, but often the self-sacrifice will go way beyond simply protecting somebody, but allowing oneself to be harmed in order to w=ensure the safety of others around you.
That surely, was what the man Jesus and the Crucifixion were all about, the ultimate sacrifice to appease to irate authorities and give members of his flock the chance to re-group and spread the word about his deeds? Do any of us ever stop to consider – in that adrenaline-fuelled moment of madness when we endanger ourselves to protect another – that we are risking our own health and safety? Of course not, because such considerations only happen when one has time to consider one’s actions.
The Preston Passion today was memorable because it saw a whole community united in celebration of such selfless courage. Hard to imagine now that staging-post Preston Station saw three million soldiers heading off to fight back then, many of them destined never to return, but as Samantha Bond’s character put it when asked – having just received word of her son’s demise, and asked if she would not rather go home than hand out tea and sandwiches said – you do not understand, these are all my sons. How could such simple sentiment move a man to tears?
Every one of us must, in the course of our lives make sacrifices, and we do it without a second thought, simply because it is somehow inbred and instinctive, but also because we care about our fellow man, however indifferent we pretend to be at times. What the thousands of people who took part in the Preston Passion celebration proved was that this feeling is universal and unstoppable. I may not be convinced that either god or Jesus Christ exist, but there is no doubt that those who have spread his supposed teachings over the past two millennia have made an impact on all our lives, whether we like it or not.
Not being religious does not make me any less acutely aware of the human condition, or less prone to the influences of society, and I am not in the least ashamed to confess that I thought the Preston Passion a beautifully crafted and wonderfully portrayed piece of truly dramatic theatre that moved me deeply. I may not be going to church as a result, but I understand the meaning of ultimate sacrifice all the same. What a wonderful show.